Soccer Mommy: Ways of Seeing
Sophie Allison is a Gemini, so by her own admission, things can get a bit dicey when she hasn’t got anything to do. “Me getting bored means something bad is going to happen,” she reasons faux-conspiratorially, her bright blue, photo-ready eyeshadow creasing at the sides as she laughs. To avoid chaos, then, she prefers to keep busy – and that attitude is why we’re sat in the windowless side room of a north London warehouse space, talking about her upcoming second album, Color Theory.
Allison is better known as Soccer Mommy – the pop-rock alias she plays under alongside her band – and is about to release Color Theory, despite hardly having taken a break from touring her debut record, Clean. Released in March 2018, Clean was an instant success. Allison’s knack for wrangling diaristic revelations around slacker rock hooks immediately anointed her as an unflinching voice for a disillusioned generation by indie fans and critics alike, in the tradition of artists like Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette.
Allison’s sensibilities have been honed even further on Color Theory, which ties together chunky, grungy sounds with bubblegum, movie soundtrack pop (“I have this natural desire to mix darkness with pop. Somehow just smash ‘em together. It’s probably because I’m a Gemini sun and a Scorpio rising,” Allison informs me matter-of-factly) and is influenced by a wide range of artists, from Tori Amos to Fishmans. The record sees Allison older and at peace with the heartaches that dominated Clean, squaring up to more existential topics like depression, sickness and death with her signature precision. I wonder, when dealing with subjects this difficult, whether a desire to contain Gemini impulsiveness is all that keeps Allison working. Surely there must be some hope for catharsis, too?
Allison nods, her hair brushing her shoulders. “I don’t speak to people about [these issues] in general. I’m not really good at that; I’m more of a closed off person, especially when I know something’s dark, and it’s a lot to be talking about. I’m very wary of feeling embarrassed or exposed.” So, for her, the songs are “a way that I feel like I can get all my thoughts out so I can stop trying to pin down how I feel. It’s like journalling or something, to get through your thoughts.”
"It's good to realise that just because things are OK doesn't mean it leads to happiness"
“I’ve always pictured this sickly yellow as meaning physical illness, and I’ve always associated it with madness in women,” Allison says. She was inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th century short story The Yellow Wallpaper – a rite-of-passage for many young women, which she read in high school – where yellow is not brightness and summertime, but “repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”
The yellow section is opened by the track crawling in my skin. Immediately the pace of the record hurries, and in general, the ‘yellow’ songs are faster and more sprawling, mirroring anxious thought patterns. “At the time when I was writing falling and yellow is the color of her eyes, I wasn’t sleeping, so I was hallucinating and hearing things, and I was really paranoid, and was constantly on edge – kind of experiencing a bit of hypomania,” Allison explains. “So it’s this high tension, paranoia, anxiety section.”
Finally, there’s grey. The album’s grey end, as Allison sees it, is “this little cocktail of darkness and decay and death. A song like gray light is just me reflecting on seeing my mom sick. She’s not better now, but she’s up and she had surgeries and stuff, and she’s healed from them and doing well. But there were times when she was fresh out of surgery which were really rough: just seeing death there, and fearing my own death. The other songs in the section are generally about darkness and evil in the world that’s trying to take you, or make you succumb to it.”
For all of her career so far, Allison has made exclusively personal music about her own mindset and experiences. When you have been so candid, it must be frustrating to feel like people are not listening, and are instead judging you on superficial characteristics: namely, for being a rock act who is also a woman.
Early on in our conversation, I ask whether, now that she’s more established, she’s still being hit with the “Women in Rock” label. When she broke through in 2018, she was grouped in as part of an invented ‘scene’ of young women coming into guitar music alongside Snail Mail, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and other musicians with whom her work bears only a vague generic resemblance. Allison sounds disappointed, noting that it’s something she’s still questioned about all the time. I apologise for bringing it up, even in a sympathetic context. “No, it’s OK,” she says, in the very specific voice you use when something is not really OK at all – but she elaborates anyway, taking the opportunity to nail her colours to the mast once and for all.
“People still ask me about it. I think the difference is now, I’m at a place with a standing. Before, I hadn’t been in a press cycle, so I didn’t realise how I felt about it. But two months into Clean I was able to be like, ‘Oh I completely see where this is going. And it’s not good.’ It’s awful and I hate it.”
The good news, however, is that despite the clichés thrown her way, Allison is steadfast in overcoming them through her lyrical originality and creative growth. And certainly, Color Theory, conceptual as it is, tells the listener more about Allison as an individual and a musician than ever before. In her words, Color Theory, like life itself, is a “slow degradation” which sees her examining her most deep-rooted concerns. “It’s supposed to be this idea of all the things that have degraded me over time. Like I’m some kind of cassette or a piece that has travelled through time. Like we all are.” By the end of the record, there’s no real resolution as much as there is an acknowledgement and acceptance of darkness. “It’s good to realise that just because things are OK doesn’t mean it leads to happiness,” Allison muses as we come to the end of our time together. “There are all these things that have been eating at you. You’re like, ‘This is not temporary, this is full life shit.’”
I can’t help but think that it’s in coming face-to-face with our full life shit – the stuff that’s there, inside of us, not going away – that the most freedom can be found. As we finish a conversation where she has addressed topics that would floor most people with openness and forthrightness, I think that it’s very likely that this is what Color Theory has done, at least in part, for Sophie Allison. “I’ve reckoned with it, and I can now say that I can have closure, in a way,” she says pragmatically. Perhaps her disarming willingness to face up to herself – even the most feared parts – will help her listeners to achieve the same.
Photography: Arthur Comely
Photography assistants: Connor Egan and Conor Rollins
Stylist: Kendall Blair
Stylist assistant: Giacomo Decastro
Hair and MUA: Emily Wood
Color Theory is out 28 February via Loma Vista